I read a stunning submission this week from one of my students that had all the elements of good storytelling minus one thing: body sensations. I found myself desperately wanting her to describe the sensations that must have been coming up for her as she wrote about what for her was a true-life, horrid event of discovering that her child had been murdered. And although she's writing memoir, it's not just memoir that requires us to get into the physical sensations our characters feel. Whether your character is you or a made-up protagonist, body sensations (literally what you or your characters physically feel in reaction to circumstances) help your reader know that what they're feeling is aligned with what you wanted them to feel when you envisioned or wrote the passage.
Last summer I visited a friend who's a writer and writing teacher. She explained to me how writing (and by extension any creativity) moves through us like a spiritual force, and how we can tap into that essential creative source through yoga and energy work. I remembered this recently because I've returned to acupuncture after a four-year hiatus. I went back due to stress; I figured maybe it could release some of my pent-up anxiety. The first day on the table I felt the chi vibrating me, a sensation of such lightness that when I closed my eyes it felt like my arms were floating. My body hummed. And within three sessions I was feeling more grounded, infinitely more centered and capable, despite my circumstances being exactly the same as they were when I started.
I believe that creative energy pumps through us like a life force, a life source, for that matter. And I also know that writers get stuck. Being a writer requires us to access everything we have. It demands that you stop and listen; that you sometimes relive the very things you would do anything to forget. And whether you're writing fiction, memoir, poetry, or self-help, it asks you to bring yourself to the page -- real, authentic, naked, true. So why should it be a surprise that we stifle our creativity, that we sometimes ignore it, abandon it, submerge it, and even sabotage it?
But here's something to consider. If you knew your creativity was something inside of you that you could treat, would you do it? If, like chi, it just needed to get unblocked, would you pursue opportunities to make that happen? We live in a culture whose solution to being stuck is medicine, or caffeine, or alcohol. We also live in a culture that throws up every roadblock imaginable to leading a creative life. Although we revere the creative life, it's not actually valued.
Take a second to feel your body right now. Where do you feel creatively alive? Do you know? Where do you feel creatively stuck? Can you be with your body enough to follow your energy to its source of inspiration or stuckness? Do you feel it in your head? In your heart? In your gut? In your loins?
Body sensations are an emotional legend for our readers, and understanding how we feel as we walk through joy or tragedy is key to relating to those we are trying to reach. Writing body sensations takes real-life practice, though, because if we're blocked off from our emotions --because we don't know what they are; or because we're ignoring them; or because we feel afraid to face them -- then we are not feeling. And if we're not feeling, how can we write with full expression?
I am witnessing more and more that writing with true depth has a push and a pull. It invigorates and enlivens, but it also sucks people dry. I've seen people get sick; I've seen depression; I've seen true fallout -- all because of risking to revisit, to tell the truth, to forge forward. Which is why we need to take care of ourselves through the writing process.
If you have enough awareness to know that there's a certain energy center you might want to start working on this week, here are a few thoughts to kickstart you, or to spur your own better ideas:
For your head: Sometimes if you're too much in your head, the best thing to do is to get out. Listen to music and dance. Look at old photographs and allow yourself to be transported to another time and place. Make a collage and allow yourself to lose track of the time.
For your heart: The heart can be easily abandoned or forgotten in the push-push-push environment that is creation for the sake of being prolific. For those of you struggling, create a vision board to remind you why you write. Make a writing bucket list and do something from the list that engages your heart. (Check out this post for some ideas.)
For your gut: Acupuncture, folks, does wonders for the gut. Also, try listing other times in your life when you've said yes. Because the gut houses our fears, this is an exercise in reminding you of how and where you risked and what the outcome was. Your gut is also the source of your power, health, and deep knowing, so try a two-day cleanse (yes, I mean diet) that's connected to an intention around your writing: a fresh start; a new beginning; a reset.
For your loins: Sex, yes, an obvious one, or better yet, self-pleasuring. Athletes often talk about the power of sexual release before a big game, but for some reason writers don't seem to extol the virtues of the Big O quite as often. Also, before a writing session, try sitting in butterfly or sleeping hero or happy baby yoga positions (all pelvis openers), just to get the blood (and creativity) flowing.
In what ways have you been stuck with your writing, and how have you been able to tap into your creativity again?
Heart image courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com.